Much of the information for today's post comes to us from Mark Sisson's website, Mark's Daily Apple. For those of you Green Conscioneers that aren't familiar with his work, or the primal lifestyle in general, the information on Sisson's site comes highly recommended.
As Sisson points out, there's nothing inherently wrong with a "chemical." Problems usually arise when one begins dealing with manmade chemicals, industrially created to fulfill a specific purpose. While those chemicals are likely very, very effective in the application for which they were developed, they are not naturally occurring. As such, it is often impossible to predict the effects, both short and long term, that they will have on the human body.
First on our list are Parabens. Used to extend shelf life, parabens are found in a variety of different products, chiefly shampoos, shaving gels, makeup, moisturizers, and conditioners. It is known beyond a doubt that parabens are trans-dermal chemicals that cross the skin and are absorbed into the body, and while some are expelled through the urine, more stable parabens persist in blood plasma. Urinary paraben levels have been linked to health conditions such as allergic sensitivities, DNA damage to sperm, and elevated stress hormones in women. Most frighteningly, infants whose mothers are exposed to parabens are exhibiting the chemicals in their first urine sample.
Parabens have estrogenic qualities, and are present in the vast majority of breast cancer tumors. While their mere presence is not enough to prove causation, and may be entirely coincidental, it remains intriguing evidence that requires further study.
Number two on the list are Phthalates. Plastic compounds, they disrupt the endocrine system, and are found most commonly in nail polish and as preservatives in perfumes. They can effect fetal development, and particularly interfere with male sex hormones and function. They have been linked to childhood obesity, diabetes, ADHD, breast cancer, and a reduction in mental and motor-skill development.
While phthalates are almost always found in fragrances, they do go by other names, and can be identified by acronyms like DEP, DBP, and BzBP. If you see any ingrediant with “phth” in it, it's probably a wise idea to avoid that product.
Next on the list we have an antibiotic called Triclosan. This chemical is already being phased out of use, because its negative effects are well known. Triclosan is very resilient, and doesn't break down as it washes off our bodies, joining microbeads in our waterways. It is found in the bodies of humans and fish, where it can form toxic compounds. Most frighteningly, triclosan has seemingly contributed to the development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, "training" them to be more virulent. Avoiding antibacterial soaps and hand wash is a great first step towards removing triclosan from our bodies and our environment.
Synthetic Fragrances, while usually appealing to our olfactory senses, have their own host of issues. Unlike the other chemicals on this list, fragrences are considered trade secrets, and manufacturers therefore are not required to disclose what is in their potentially hazardous chemical cocktails. Fragrences are ubiquitous, found in a host of products, such as scented deodorants, lotions, and laundry detergents. Just as resilient as triclosan and microbeads, synthetic musks have been found in waterways, and work on the human body by interrupting cellular defense mechanisms. Fragrances may be impairing the ability of the human body to detoxify itself from even nominal amounts of exposure. On top of all of that, synthetic fragrances are one of the most common triggers for late developing allergies.
Lastly, we have UV Filtering chemicals like benzophenone and oxybenzone, found commonly in sunblocks. The chemicals are endocrine disruptors, exhibiting many of the same effects as phthalates. Made to be absorbed into the skin, they have been shown to interfere with the production of thyroid hormones, and exhibit estrogenal effects as well. The effectiveness of these chemicals has also been called into debate recently, with some studies showing that there are few benefits to sunscreen usage.
While some of the benefits of these chemicals can be called into question, the negative effects are far more clear-cut. In some fish, exposure to UV filtering chemicals can cause multi-generational gene damage.
This list is far from complete, and only meant to scratch the surface of these topics. These chemicals are commonly used in our society, and exhibit dangerous effects not only to our environment, but also within our bodies. In later columns, we'll take the time to examine more of these chemicals in detail. As always, thanks for reading!